by Angela Gardner
Ross High School
After attending the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages in conjunction with OFLA, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, delighted, excited, inspired, and proud of my home state all at the same time. To say that I returned to my classroom with a wealth of useful tools, ideas, strategies and activities would be an understatement. Several weeks have passed already since the conference and in spite of my best efforts, I still have not yet managed to attempt to integrate much of what I learned, but I will continue to put forth the effort to do so as the academic year continues and into future years.
One activity that I did manage to integrate successfully came from the briefest of interactions with a colleague while at the conference. It certainly helped that I was in a convenient location at a good time. I felt free to interact with colleagues while I was working at the OFLA table in the expo area since I was not already engaged in a discussion with a colleague from my school.
Sometimes when I have attended conferences in the past, I have had a tendency to remain with colleagues from my school, creating a social group that may be a barrier to the type of interaction that is possible if one is independent, because we stay together between sessions, sharing reflections and discussing items that pertain to our building. This is still often an effective use of time, but the beauty of a conference is that we have the opportunity to network with people outside of our typical academic bubble, if we will just take it.
Such an opportunity presented itself while working at the OFLA table. Bill Langley (AATSP Buckeye Chapter Representative for OFLA) stopped by the table for a visit. In his hand, I noticed that he was carrying a bag of brightly colored dolls and cards with handwritten notes on them.
Curious, I commented on the dolls, a familiar staple in my classroom–they are a handcraft made in Guatemala, legend says they take away worries while one sleeps. We had made them before in class, but I’ve never collected them, always encouraging students to take them home once done. Bill lit up, and cheerfully explained that he had promised his students to take the dolls to a hospital that served children, in hopes to brighten the day for children receiving medical attention. He further showed me the notes, where the students in his class had explained what the dolls were in English and in Spanish. What a generous and kind gesture! Such an act had never even occurred to me as we made the dolls in my classroom before.
Upon investigation, I found that our local children’s hospital would not accept handcrafted dolls, and certainly not tiny ones. But, with a little further searching, I found a Ronald McDonald House near such a hospital that expressed that they would be delighted to accept the dolls to distribute to families of children receiving medical attention. So, I generated a base of materials donated from community members (string, match sticks, scrap fabric) and shared with our students what they were to do, both in class and with our Spanish Club members after school. We’ve made the dolls in the past, but I have never seen my students meet this activity with the same care and attention to detail–they cared that the dolls were attractive, bright, and cheerful. They cared that the cards would be legible and send a message of hope.
While students worked, I snapped a few photographs of them in action, as well as the dolls themselves, and shared the pictures and a press release about the event with local media outlets, in hopes that our work would generate positive publicity for our program, as well as inspire such acts from other community members or teachers in the local area. To date, I am not sure that any of the local news outlets have featured the information, but our local township community newspaper is only published once monthly, and in past experiences with news outlets of this nature, sometimes it is a few weeks before these events are featured. We finished the dolls on March 30, and it is April 3rd as I write.
This brief interaction with a colleague at a conference and a simple, familiar activity evolved into a charitable contribution and positive advocacy for language and cultural learning in my community. I expected to derive at least some ideas and activities from the many wonderful sessions and workshops that I attended, and certainly my expectations were exceeded through those. But, I did not anticipate that such a wonderful and transformative idea would come from just the spontaneous kind of connection that happens so naturally at these conferences among teachers.
I would encourage any OFLA members to attend both conferences next year, OFLA in Columbus and CSCTFL in Chicago, in hopes that not only through sessions and workshops, but also through spontaneous sharing with colleagues, they might find valuable and effective tools and ideas for their classrooms.